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June 2021

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

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The White Cat's Revenge as Plotted from the Dragon King's Lap: Volume 1: 06/30/21

The White Cat's Revenge as Plotted from the Dragon King's Lap: Volume 1 by Kureha

The White Cat's Revenge as Plotted from the Dragon King's Lap: Volume 1 by Kureha is the start of a light novel series involving a naturally blonde woman who grew up in Japan with a next door nemesis. The two of them are summoned to another world to be the Princess Priestess.

Whenever anything went wrong, Ruri would be blamed, even if it was Asahi's fault. The last straw is when Asahi follows her to college. Before Ruri can take action she finds herself in another world. That by itself would be ok but she's been followed by her stalker.

After a lengthy set up of how unfair Ruri's life has been the novel settles into some very interesting world building. Outside the human realm is a beast realm ruled by the Dragon King. Ruri finds herself exiled to here and finally she gets to be apart from Asahi.

Ruri's perpetual bad luck and her apparent good luck in the Dragon Kingdom are tied to a charisma based magic system. Her overpowered status is based solely on her ability to get those controlling the magic of the world to do favors for her. The how and why she spends the back half of the book in the form of a white cat is also ultimately tied to her magical charisma.

While the translation was a bit fast and loose at times, the world building and the political cliff hanger were enough to keep me reading volume 2.

Four stars

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Murder by Page One: 06/29/21

Murder by Page One by Olivia Matthews

Murder by Page One by Olivia Matthews is the start of the Peach Coast mystery series. Marvey is a Black librarian who has recently moved from Brooklyn to coastal Georgia. While she loves small town life she's still adjusting to the differences in slang and culture.

While helping her bookseller friend set up for a book signing, she finds an author dead in the storage room. The local authorities decide her BFF is the prime suspect. Marvey decides to ask around to prove there are others in town with a motive.

Marvey is a smart woman and immediately gets the help of others in her friend group. I much prefer the group of friends as sleuths to the solo character sleuth who somehow simultaneously feels safe enough to ask a bunch of invasive questions but not safe enough to enlist help. I also like that goal isn't to solve the mystery. Instead the goal is to create reasonable doubt.

The book is listed as a first in series. As of writing this review a second title hasn't been announced. Nonetheless, I am committed to following the series. I'm looking forward to the second book whenever that might be.

Five stars

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Cut to the Corpse: 06/28/21

Cut to the Corpse by Lucy Lawrence

Cut to the Corpse by Lucy Lawrence is the second Decoupage mystery. Brenna Miller has been hired to make wedding favors for a local debutant. The morning after the bachelorette party, the groom's best friend is found stabbed to death in the bed of the bride and she's holding the murder weapon.

Tara, the bride-to-be, doesn't recall how she ended up in bed and she certainly doesn't remember murdering a man! Brenna who has come to like and trust this young woman is convinced she was framed.

The mystery itself might have tripped me up if I hadn't been catching up with Midsomer Murders. The last episode from the 2019 series, "With Baited Breath" shares many plot points with Cut to the Corpse.

The third and final book is Sealed with a Kill (2011).

Three stars

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Potions and Pastries: 06/27/21

Potions and Pastries by Bailey Cates

Potions and Pastries by Bailey Cates is the seventh volume in the Magical Bakery mystery series. Honeybee Bakery is two years old and while out celebrating Katie meets her aunt's friend, Orla, who is reading fortunes along the waterfront. The next day she's killed in a freak traffic accident that has Katie convinced was supernatural or magical in nature.

The mystery takes Katie into the world of street vending and busking and into Orla's tightly knit extended family. With the inclusion of traveler culture, I was reminded a bit of "Blood Will Out" (Midsomer Murders series 2, episode 4). Orla's family though aren't traditional travelers in that they've settled down and they are magic users.

The observant reader, though, will spot the murderer long before Katie does. It's all in the set up. While she feels compelled to investigate Orla's family because how they go about things is so different from what she's used to, they aren't evil. They are grieving in their own way.

The side plot to Potions and Pastries is the hunt for a new home. Katie and Declan are engaged and have been living in her carriage house. The place is too small and they're shopping for a larger place. The problem is, Katie loves her garden and isn't ready to give it up.

The eighth book is Cookies Clairvoyance (2019).

Five stars

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Cookies and Clairvoyance: 06/26/21

Cookies and Clairvoyance by Bailey Cates

Cookies and Clairvoyance by Bailey Cates is the eighth book in the Magical Bakery mystery series. Katie Lightfoot and her fiancé are struggling to balance wedding planning and renovations to their carriage house. Unfortunately mistakes and delays are threatening the timeline of completing the house in time for the wedding.

Then a firefighter friend is accused of murdering a collector of rarities and Katie is pulled in to investigate. She's called in because most of the items are magical in nature. As part of the investigation, she loses her powers.

Book eight marks a turning point in the series where the authorities know she's a witch and acknowledge that magic is real. This change gives Katie more direct agency and access for her sleuthing, but it increases the stakes. For much of the book, Katie is without her magic as the first example of how things have become more dangerous for her now that even the police know of her abilities.

The combination of problems with the building site, the personal attack on Katie, and the overarching murder investigation, gives Cookies and Clairvoyance a similar feel to Curiosity Thrilled the Cat by Sofie Kelly (2011).

The ninth book in the series is Witches and Wedding Cake (2020).

Five stars

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Yokohama Station SF: 06/25/21

Yokohama Station SF by Yuba Isukari

Yokohama Station SF by Yuba Isukari began in 2015 on Twitter as a joke comparing the continually constructed / reconstructed Yokohama Station to Tsutomu Nihei's Blame. From that a multivolume light novel was born. Yen Press has collected them all together into a single, beautifully crafted hardbound edition in English translation.

Two hundred years before the story opens two things happened. Japanese researchers began to blend AI neural networking research with the already well established train and subway system on Honshu (the main island). Meanwhile, a world war, called the Winter War, broke out. The train stations became targets (to both slow the movement of goods and to disrupt the neural network). The rail AI adapted to these attacks and along the way, Yokohama Station began to self replicate to replace the damaged or destroyed stations. Unfortunately the process got out of hand like kudzu in the American south and the people of Honshu ended up living Inside — meaning as citizens of the station.

The novel is three separate but similarly themed journeys through Yokohama Station all with the goal of bringing the end to the station. The first is a traveler from outside the station who has grown up at the seaside border with it. The second two are infiltrators from off the island who are tracking the station's progress and are collecting intel on ways to keep that progress in check.

Reading this fascinating book as an American, I'm reminded most of Kate Milford's river city-state, Nagspeake which features in a number of her middle grade and YA fantasies. Of all of them, though, The Thief Knot (2020) and The Racounteur's Commonplace Book (2021) come closest in theme and tone to Yokohama Station SF. That said, there is one very big difference — the iron of Nagspeak isn't spreading beyond its bounds and doesn't need to be shut down.

Like Milford's novels, Yokohama Station SF sits on the road narrative spectrum. As it's a Japanese novel, though, it is an outlier but is in good company with many others.

With multiple protagonists who at times work separately and at other times together, I must define them by the one trait they all share. As they aren't members of Yokohama Station and will be forcibly removed by the Automated Turnstiles, they are marginalized travelers (66).

The destination is a return to a time before Yokohama Stations sentience. It's a desire to undo the expansion. It's also a desire to understand the history of what made Yokohama Station what it is and to imagine what Honshu was like before the expansion. Repeated throughout the book is the sentiment of disbelief that human engineering could have built the original station and rail lines. Put another way, the destination is uhoria (CC).

The route though is quite literally the railroad (00). As the station has grown beyond the need for train cars, the railroad is one that's primarily traveled by foot. Instead of trains, there are moving sidewalks, elevators, and escalators. While travelers in the station can pick where they go (assuming it's not forbidden by the Automated Turnstiles), how they go is determined by the routes built by the station. Many of these involve moving platforms that are analogous to the railway lines that have long since fallen into disuse.

Summarized, Yokohama Station SF is about marginalized travelers going to uhoria via the railroad (66CC00).

Five stars

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Mooncakes: 06/24/21

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (Illustrator) is a young adult graphic novel paranormal romance. Nova Huang lives with her grandmothers and works in their bookshop. While it serves as a regular bookshop, it also serves the local witches and other magical people of the area.

Nova's long time friend, Tam, returns and asks to stay over. They've had to leave home because their stepfather is transphobic. As they catch up on things, they begin to fall for each other.

But there's also a supernatural mystery afoot. A demon has been spotted in the forest. Normally the grandmothers would be strong enough to handle the situation but this one is different. Tam has her werewolf powers which seem especially suited for defeating the demon.

The story is written with humor and heart. The art is delightful. There's good queer representation. Wholesome romance. Acceptance of pronouns and gender.

I would definitely read the further adventures of these characters.

Five stars

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Red Bones: 06/23/21

Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

Red Bones by Ann Cleeves is the third of the Shetland Island mystery series. Death comes to archeological dig. First it's the old woman who owns the land. Then it's the woman leading the dig. Is one a tragic accident and the other a suicide or is there more connecting the two?

The elderly woman was Sandy Wilson's grandmother. Because of his connection to the prime suspects, Jimmy Perez pushes him to take the lead on the investigation. Thus he goes from being a joke character to a well-rounded, sympathetic one.

The basic plot, though, has an entire shoal of red herrings. Poor Sandy, and to a lesser degree, Jimmy, end up running around after tenuous lead after lead. Instead, the solution is more basic and more personal — one that is a matter of understanding the motive, rather than understanding individual timelines or alibis.

Red Bones is a similar read to Killer Kung Pao by Vivien Chien (2020) and The Big Nap by Ayelet Waldman (2001).

The fourth book is Blue Lightning (2010).

Four stars

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Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop: 06/22/21

Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim

Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim starts in Palo Alto but is mostly set in Paris. A small quibble, the novel should be Evelyn Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop as the titular tea shop belongs to Vanessa's aunt.

Vanessa and her aunt come from a long line of clairvoyants. Her aunt can predict people's futures accurately and at will. For Vanessa the visions come when she drinks tea. They are painful and unwanted and most often bad news. She feels like she's cursed and she doesn't want to spread her curse to others.

Being clairvoyant comes with a price. There is no HEA for them. There are no true loves — no one to share their lives with. Yet, Evelyn has come to rekindle things with an old flame, and Vanessa has met a young man from Montreal who is working in Paris.

Despite my minor quibble over the choice in title, I found this a delightful book. I found the pacing better focused than Lim's first book, Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune (2019). A big chunk of that probably stems from the setting being somewhere I've never visited (Paris).

Roselle Lim's next book is Sophie Go's Lonely Hearts Club (2022).

Five stars

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Trouble in the Stars: 06/21/21

Trouble in the Stars by Sarah Prineas

Trouble in the Stars by Sarah Prineas is a middle grade science fiction adventure set in space. Trouble is a shapeshifter. In their non-shifted state, they are a white gelatinous sphere.

For most of the novel, though, Trouble choses to be a human boy. Trouble uses the pronouns that seem to best fit the body they're in. So as a human, that means he/him. The one thing he hates, though, is being called an it.

I heard about this book back in December 2020. I was curious to read it for the depiction of Trouble as a nonbinary character. In that time, though, I've also started watching the anime To Your Eternity (不滅のあなたへ) based on a manga by the same name by Yoshitoki Ōima. The similarities between the two are striking (although I believe coincidental). So if you like the anime or the manga and a similar story but in space, I recommend Trouble the Stars.

There is one big difference between the two stories. Namely, the lack of death. In the Japanese story the shapeshifter learns to copy the first few times by taking on the form of dead companions: a wolf, a boy (their main form), a bear, and a little girl. Trouble, on the other hand, seems to have come into being knowing how to transform into different creatures — not just that he can — but the actual blueprints of them. Given that Prineas only has 256 pages to tell Trouble's story, it makes sense that he comes into being knowing more than his manga counterpart.

Trouble's story is also a journey in the road narrative spectrum. Trouble is a scarecrow/minotaur traveler (99). He personally believes he is good and goes out of his way to help and protect his humanoid crewmates on the Hindsight. They, though, are faced with the possibility that Trouble is actually an escaped criminal or something else dangerous. Thus he is both a protector (scarecrow) and a threat (minotaur).

The goal for Trouble is home (66). Home is somewhere safe. Home might be where there are other shapeshifters (if there are any). Home might be a more secured position on Hindsight.

The route is the maze (CC), meaning the way to reaching that desired state of safety and belonging is fraught with blind alleys and other dangers. In the climax of the novel, there is also a literal maze that could possibly prevent Trouble from reaching his goal and put his found family into unnecessary danger.

Thus thematically, Trouble in the Stars is about a scarecrow/minotaur searching for home via the maze (9966CC).

Five stars

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Better Homes and Corpses: 06/20/21

Better Homes and Corpses by Kathleen Bridge

Better Homes and Corpses by Kathleen Bridge is the start of the Hamptons Home and Garden mystery series. It's also the second book in recent months I've read with a main character who relocates to Montauk New York. This one though is a contemporary novel so it was interesting to see which details made it through, such as the historic lighthouse.

Meg Barrett has moved to Montauk after finding her ex-fiancé with his ex-wife. She quickly finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery when the Queen Mother of the Hamptons is murdered and her frail daughter is left with amnesia.

I have to admit from the introduction of Jillian I was immediately picturing Victoria Pedretti as she portrayed Nell Crain in the Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House. Her apparent frailty is a key part of this mystery.

Meg's sleuthing is tied up in her knowledge of antiques and her willingness to get dirty going through people's attics and closets. She differs from other recent amateur sleuths I've read because she starts off the series with a large nest egg, enough to get her interior decorating business up and running and to buy a cottage. Yet, she's not like Tricia Miles in Murder is Binding who is older and has been saving up for this move through a long career.

The nuts and bolts of the mystery were pretty easy to figure out but the setting and characters are interesting. There was enough derring-do to keep things moving. All in all it was a satisfying page turner.

Book two is Hearse and Gardens (2016).

Five stars

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Shopaholic to the Rescue: 06/19/21

Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella

Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella is the eighth book in the Shopaholic series. It's also the continuation of Shopaholic to the Stars. Becky, Luke, her mother, Suze, Jane, and Alicia Bitch Long Legs, all pile into a rented RV to find Becky's father and Suze's husband.

Now while much of the novel takes place on the interstate, the novel isn't on the road narrative spectrum. The goal is too focused on finding the missing family members and getting them home to England. The steps to finding the men and solving their problem is instead contextualized against the odd places they visit and the equally memorable people they meet.

In the previous book I complained about how off character Becky and Suze were. Happily they come back to their usual selves over the course of the journey. Neither one gets to the extremes of the first couple books as there has been character growth. Most importantly, though, the reasons for their off behavior is explained and Alicia's machinations towards breaking them apart is revealed.

The ninth and of writing this review, final book, is Christmas Shopaholic (2019).

Five stars

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Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Volume 1: 06/18/21

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Volume 1 by Sumito Oowara

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Volume 1 by Sumito Oowara is the start of a manga (turned into a single cour anime) that celebrates the creative process and the art of animation.

Eizouken is set in a fictional water bound city with the sort of illogical architecture of fantasy and science fiction. It's the sort of place that's begging to inspire art. Midori and Tsubame are long time friends. Midori wants desperately to be in the anime club. Tsubame has the business acumen and cynicism to make Midori's dream come true.

Then there's Sayaka, a child actress who wants to be a character designer and animator. Her parents have forbade her from joining the anime club. Tsubame, though, always sees a way around things. If you can't join a club, make a club.

Much of this first book is about the business of setting up the club and fixing up the club house — an abandoned, run down storehouse on the edge of the school. But each practical piece of the process is interspersed with the imaginations of the girls as they go on flights of fancy.

Volume two comes out in English translation on June 22nd.

Five stars

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Furbidden Fatality: 06/17/21

Furbidden Fatality by Deborah Blake

Furbidden Fatality by Deborah Blake is the start of the Catskills Pet Rescue mystery series. Kari Stuart has been working as a waitress while she figures out what to do with her sizable lottery winnings. When she finds a kitten and no shelter has room for her, she decides to buy the shelter that's on the verge of bankruptcy.

The shelter comes with a house (and why oh why am I picturing the Bates's Victorian?) where Kari and her numerous pets (including the new kitten) can all live. But the shelter is fraught with problems: repeated vandalism and the murder of a corrupt dog warden, and a court date to decide the fate of an unfairly maligned pit bull.

Furbidden Fatality has a similar blend of slice of life, circle of friends, and sleuthing that I love from the Lorna Barrett series I'm following. As this is the first it's a mixture of fixing the shelter, getting to know the other volunteers, and figuring out the complicated conspiracy behind everything that's been going on.

The second book is Doggone Deadly and scheduled for a November 2nd release.

Five stars

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To Brew or Not to Brew: 06/16/21

To Brew or Not to Brew by Joyce Tremel

To Brew or Not to Brew by Joyce Tremel is the start of the Brewing Trouble mystery trilogy. Maxine 'Max' O'Hara has bought a historic brewery. She and Kurt Schmidt, her chef and assistant brewmaster, are struggling with a series of sabotage. When Kurt figures out who is doing it, he is murdered.

While Kurt's death is first pegged as an accident, Max knows it's not. Even after his death the trouble continues. She and her new chef, an ex-hockey player named Jake, try to get the brewpub ready to open while still facing sabotage.

Like Cleo Coyle's Coffee House mysteries, To Brew or Not to Brew has a lot of time and effort spent on describing beer and brewing. I liked the details in that they give a sense of place. These details also ground Max and Jake into a routine that forces them to balance their time with their sleuthing.

All that said, there is a brief scene within about the first fifty pages that I immediately recognized the murderer. It took a bit longer to understand their motivation.

Four stars

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This Was Our Pact: 06/15/21

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews opens with a lantern festival. A village is releasing paper lanterns into their river to sail out to sea. A group of boys get on their bikes and make a pact to ride past the bridge to see where the lanterns really go. One by one they give up until there are only two left. And that's when the story really begins.

There's a local legend that the lanterns fly up into the sky to join the Milky Way. The remaining boys are skeptics. But as they get beyond the bounds of their known world, things get strange. Their world views are challenged by the characters they meet and the places they go.

Ryan Andrews lives in Japan. This Was Our Pact reflects his experience by being a blend of western (I would hazard North American) and Japanese imagery. This is a world where the Blue Highway can be mapped by a magical crow and a talking bear is on his first solo fishing trip.

This middle grade novel also sits on the road narrative spectrum. The two boys who stick with the journey beyond the bridge quickly get in over their heads. As they are vulnerable, they are marginalized travelers (66). Their journey takes them well beyond the known or expected world, one they haven't conceived of, a utopia (FF). But their journey, save for a few detours, is mapped to the road they originally started on. It's a blue highway (33) in the sense that it's paved, traveled by a bus route, and well enough maintained for their bicycles. To summarize, This Was Our Pact is about marginalized travelers going to utopia via the blue highway (66FF33).

Five stars

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Gideon Falls, Volume 4: The Pentoculus: 06/14/21

Gideon Falls, Volume 4: The Pentoculus

Gideon Falls, Volume 4: The Pentoculus by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino (Illustrator) is the first good look at Pentoculus Machine that's in the center of the Black Barn. It's also the first explanation of why the characters we've been following have been drawn to the barn.

The rapid spread of COVID in 2020 delayed the release of volume 4 to the point that my pre-order was canceled, not by the book store, but by their distributor. Since neither of us realized what had happened until months later when I saw volume 5 had been released, I've fallen way behind in my reading of this series.

For Volume 3: Stations of the Cross I looked at how the protagonists were set up in a scarecrow (protector) / minotaur (monster) dichotomy. For this volume their status is downgraded as their roles in a greater destiny is established. This move also drops the series solidly into horror, although it's been skirting that genre throughout the previous volumes.

Progression of the four Gideon Fall volumes on the road narrative spectrum

The protagonists from the center of the barn are called out for being members of a predicted set of heroes who will bring the end of the barn, the machine, and the monster who controls (is controlled by) the machine. Thus while their status appears to evolve into "big damn heroes," in terms of success on the road, it's a huge downgrade to the most vulnerable form of traveler (assuming a white cis-gendered male centered narrative). Suddenly being privileged travelers (00) is not good news.

Their destination is a rural place (33). Outside of the barn, it is the old Gideon Falls. Inside, it's a primitive looking village. The bigger question is, what will happen to all the alternate Gideon Falls once the barn is destroyed?

Their route is the labyrinth (99) as represented through the constant referral to the center of the barn. Their journey to the center is also a huge factor into their transformation into privileged travelers. While ultimately the barn is a death trap, for the trap to be set, they must travel a fairly easy path.

The fifth book is Wicked Worlds (2020).

Four stars

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Butterflies Are Pretty ... Gross!: 06/13/21

Butterflies Are Pretty ... Gross!

Butterflies Are Pretty ... Gross! by Rosemary Mosco and Jacob Souva (Illustrations) is a picture book about the wide range of species that are butterflies. It highlights many of the exceptions to what we think of as butterflies.

Mosco draws the reader in with some interactivity. A host butterfly, a monarch by the looks of things, warns the reader to not turn the page. When the page is turned there's a further warning about how gross the truth about butterflies is. The reader is given one last chance and then after another page turn the facts begin.

The book includes facts about seven species which are further explained in an appendix. The species included are: Monarch, Harvester, Alcon Blue, Red Cracker, Giant Swallowtail, Red-Banded Hairstreak, and Julia Heliconian.

Details included are things like butterflies taste with their feet. To drive how odd that may seem, Mosco asks the reader what it would be like if their parents stuck their feet into their breakfast before serving it.

I like that this book focuses on the exceptions rather than the rules. There are probably dozens of butterfly books that cover the basic life cycle with the big reveal at the end of a gorgeous butterfly emerging from a cocoon. It's refreshing to read a book that decides to dive deeper into butterflies and the many ways that different butterflies don't fit their beautiful reputation.

Although Rosemary Mosco is an artist herself these illustrations are done by Jacob Souva. Mosco runs the Bird and Moon webcomic. Souva's illustrations are done in Photoshop. This is the first book I've read with his illustrations.

Five stars

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Indigo Dying: 06/12/21

Indigo Dying

Indigo Dying by Susan Wittig Albert is the eleventh book in the China Bayles mystery series. The series is now up to volume 28, Hemlock which releases in the fall. I hope to catch up to the series sooner rather than later but I've been slowly (glacially) reading this series since 2004. That means I've now caught up to where I was when I started.

The book opens with a violent death. A man opens a door and receives a face full of buckshot. An entire towns worth of people and some out of town media rush over to him. It's a great and memorable scene. Unfortunately it then takes the mystery until page 106 to get back to that spot in the narrative.

China Bayles the protagonist and first person narrator is a chatty character. Eleven books in and she still wants me to know where she lives, who her friends are, what her friends do for a living, and the news of her life for at least the last couple years. What this means for reading one of these mysteries: the first fifty page or so can honestly be skimmed (or sometimes even outright skipped) if you can remember the previous books.

The set up for this mystery is the backdrop of a failing town being encroached upon by a massive strip mining operation. In Texas mineral rights and land ownership are two separate and segregated things. You might own your land but someone else might own the crap in it and you might get pushed out when those rights are sold.

The man who dies violently owned all the mineral rights to the properties in Indigo. The upcoming Monday he had plans (which he'd loudly announced) to sign over the rights to the mining operation some two or so miles away. With him dead the town is saved. The big question is, who killed him?

I really wanted the solution to be something in the vein of The Trouble with Harry since so many people had a stake in wanting him dead. Sadly it's not. The whole mining operation thing is atmospheric but it's not the point of the book.

Tucked into one hundred and fifty pages of flashbacks, Texas mining information, red herrings, and lessons on natural dyes and the history of indigo vs woad as dyes, is about fifty pages of genuine mystery.

The twelfth book is A Dilly of a Death (2004).

Three stars

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Death Overdue: 06/11/21

Death Overdue

Death Overdue by Allison Brook is the start of the Haunted Library mystery series. Set in Clover Ridge, Connecticut, it follows Carrie Singleton as she takes on her new role as head of programs. Her first event is a lecture by a retired homicide detective, Al Buckley, about his final (and unsolved) case. Minutes into the event he ends up dead, poisoned.

Like Brooklyn Wainright in the Bibliophile mysteries, Carrie has to deal with a saboteur. She knows who is doing it but it takes her a while to get proof and to resolve the situation. Fortunately Carrie is mature enough to handle things with aplomb (something Brooklyn takes volumes to manage). Her nemesis here, then, is hopefully a one book only source of red herrings and other distractions.

Helping Carrie is the ghost of a former librarian. Her death frankly sounds suspicious to me, and I have to wonder if it won't be the source of a later investigation. While the ghost is there to offer advice and encouragement, she's fortunately not set up to be source of infinite insights and clues.

With this mystery being hinged on a cold case and a building with a long history of its own, I'm reminded fondly of two other mystery series, the Lighthouse Library Mysteries by Eva Gates and the newly started Witch Way Librarian series by Angela M. Sanders.

The next book is Read and Gone (2018).

Four stars

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War Stories: 06/10/21

War Stories

War Stories by Gordon Korman is about a family traveling to a small French village to celebrate its liberation at the end of WWII. The last time Jacob was in France he was a seventeen year old infantryman with the nickname "High School." Now he's a reluctant 90 year old who is going back with his grandson and great grandson.

Like nearly every Korman novel, War Stories has multiple points of view. This time, though, he sticks to just two: Trevor (the war obsessed great-grandson) and Jacob during WWII. Together the two points of view give a larger context to each location the family visits.

In the background of the modern day story there is a group of protestors unhappy with Jacob's impending return. Their protests first online and then in person add a level of suspense and danger. This suspense builds against the literal danger and death of the WWII scenes.

The family journey to and through France is also mapped onto the road narrative spectrum. As stated, the travelers are a family (33). Their destination is uhoria (CC) to remember the dead and to celebrate the one survivor. Their route is the labyrinth (99) as the trip is a transformative one that spirals into the truth and changes Trevor's views on war and war themed video games. Summarized then War Stories is about a family traveling to and through uhoria via the labyrinth (33CC99).

Four stars

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I Think I Love You: 06/09/21

I Think I Love You

I Think I Love You by Auriane Desombre is a YA rom-com about a pair of young women making competing films for a scholarship. Emma is a die-hard romantic and wants to make a bi-centered romcom. Sophia is recently returned from France where her mother has gotten remarried. She doesn't believe in love and wants to make something incredibly French.

The basic plot reminds me a bit of The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen (2020) in that the plot is primarily centered on the creative process set against a backdrop of relationship drama. The filmmaking should be the setting and not the filler. It should in form the plot and the characters interactions but it can't be the majority of the page count at the cost of everything else.

Like so many romances, the novel has alternating points of view: Emma and Sophia. It's clear there's a pre-France history between the two but what that is exactly isn't explained or developed. The book opens with an extraordinary amount of animosity between the two teens. Sure, it's set up to be an enemies to lovers type story but there's so much time on making the two films that we don't have the time for them to slow burn into a couple.

The final frustrating detail is the straight romance that Emma sets up early in the book. It gets more page time than her chance at love. It's a sad commentary on bi-erasure.

Three stars

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Thirty-four years of tracking my reading: 06/09/21

Thirty-four years of tracking my reading

Since 1987 I've been tracking my reading. I happened to start my list (in an old Holly Hobbie diary) on this day in 1987. I was just finishing up 7th grade. To read more about the reasons, see 2019's post.

Last night marked the close of my 34th year of tracking my reading. I am about five-sixths the way through my third handwritten volume. By my handwritten account, I'm at 9316. By my calculations in Numbers, I'm at 9515 books.

There are numerous places where my handwritten count has drifted by a number and I've tried to go back to fix these errors and have probably introduced new errors. What I need to do is print out numbers from 1 to 9515 or wherever I am when I do this and paste them in, line by line, to fix these errors.

Four years ago I predicted that by January of 2018, I would cross ten thousand books. Silly me. I I just crossed 9,000 and won't hit 10,000 until December 2022 or maybe mid spring 2023.

My first book for year 34 was Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (2020). My last book was Well Met by Jen DeLuca (2019). I will get it reviewed sometime this summer.

I am still focusing on diversifying my reading. The big change, though, is that I've so completely worked through my backlog of reviews that I'm running about even with posting reviews of what I read.

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Three Men on the Bummel: 06/08/21

Three Men on the Bummel

Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome is the sequel to Three Men on a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) (1889). I read the first book because of Connie Willis's time travel homage, To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998). Both of these books I read long before I converted this website into a book blog.

One of the questions the book asks via George is "what is a bummel." It's a German word, fitting for their Schwarzwald visit. While it most loosely means a stroll, it's used here as a "journey there and back again" as Bilbo called his memoir. So that makes me wonder if The Hobbit (1937) is in part a tongue in cheek homage to Jerome K. Jerome's book.

What made the first book funny can't possibly work for the second, save for the introductory chapters. The original book is all about a boat trip up the Thames and the problems that befall them for poor planning and basic dumbfuckery. A book about Englishmen being idiots in England makes the humor self-deferential.

When, however, the setting moves to another country, the jokes become English vs Germans. Or us vs them. Normal vs abnormal. The humor is based on othering the Germans. The so called humor falls flat and makes Jerome and his mates sound like the ponces they probably were.

Three stars

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Revenge of the Horned Bunnies: 06/07/21

Revenge of the Horned Bunnies

Revenge of the Horned Bunnies by Ursula Vernon is the sixth of the Dragonbreath series. Danny, Wendell, and Danny's cousin Spencer are all headed to camp in a location that appears to be Holes adjacent. While Stanley was dealing with a curse and being sentenced to a work labor camp, Danny et al are facing dubious camp counselors and jackalopes who are being poached.

In previous volumes the adults weren't the villains. They have been incompetent foils, they have been absent, or they've been helpers. In this volume, though, there are genuine villains who are risking the safety of the campers and are decimating the local jackalope population.

Chart showing the progress of the Dragonbreath books on the Road Narrative Spectrum

Like the previous five, Revenge of the Horned Bunnies is set on the road narrative spectrum. Danny, Spencer, and Wendell as campers away from home are marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is the wildlands (99) (aka the desert and the camp). Their route there is via a bus on the blue highway (33).

Thematically, book six is about marginalized travelers going to the wildlands via the blue highway (669933). For the observant reader, it's a return to the themes used in the third volume, Curse of the Were Wiener (2010).

The seventh book is When Fairies Go Bad (2012).

Four stars

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Swamp Thing: Twin Branches: 06/06/21

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater and Morgan Beem (illustrator) is a standalone graphic novel about the origin of Swamp Thing. Alec and Walker Holland are twins but a terrible flu changed Alec. Since then, he and his brother have been drifting apart.

Alec has been researching how plants store memories and can collect the memories of other plants around them. A forced cross country move and some careless handling of his experiment leads to the original work being lost. But it also inspires new discoveries.

Mostly the journey home leads to the brothers drifting apart. Walker is at home with their extended family. Alec isn't. He has his revised experiment and one friend who is interested in similar of research.

While I found the story interesting, I found the artwork off putting. The character designs looked like rejects from Beevis and Butthead. The artwork was distracting enough to pull me out of the story numerous times.

The road to Alec becoming Swamp Thing is contextualized in the road narrative spectrum. The travelers are siblings (CC) — twins Alec and Walker. Their destination is the wildlands (99) of the forest near their new home. Their route is the maze in that their journey proves dangerous (CC): through bullying and through Alec's own experiments. Summarized Swamp Things is about twins going through the wildlands via the maze (CC99CC).

Two stars

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Arsenic and Adobo: 06/05/21

Arsenic and Adobo

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala is the start of the Tita Rosie's Kitchen mystery series. Set in fictional Shady Palms, it's the story of the Macapagal family struggling to keep their restaurant open after a notorious food critic ends up dying after trying one of their dishes. To make matters worse, Lila (pronounced Leela) Macapagal is accused of selling drugs out of the kitchen.

The family dynamics reminds me of the Lees in the Noodle Shop mystery series by Vivien Chien. Their contentious relationship with the landlord is similar too. That said overall I think the Macapagals start the series in a better, tighter knit family unit than the Lees do, meaning Lila has more support off the bat than Lana does.

The food in this series is Filipino and the back of the book includes a few recipes. One is for ube crinkle cooks. Another is for chicken adobo. I am personally not very familiar with Filipino food so I had fun Googling many of the mentioned dishes. I need to find a local restaurant to try some of them for myself.

The pacing in the middle was a little rough which is pretty typical for the start of a new series. Much of the pacing problems for me stem from just how dire her family's restaurant situation is. Yet, Lila as a returnee, isn't as fully vested yet in the day to day running of the restaurant — nor can she be because it's closed for most of the book. I am looking forward to seeing how life in the restaurant is when it's open for the entirety of a mystery.

The second book is Homicide and Halo-Halo. It's scheduled for release on February 8, 2022.

Four stars

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An Appetite for Murder: 06/04/21

An Appetite for Murder

An Appetite for Murder by Lucy Burdette is the start of Key West Food Critic mystery series. Hayley Snow is busting her butt to get the food critic position at Key Zest, a Key West style magazine. There are just a couple problems. First, it's owned by her ex boyfriend's current boyfriend. Second, she's just been murdered and the police think Hayley did it.

Like the more recent A Side of Murder by Amy Pershing (2021), An Appetite for Murder has a strong sense of place. Here the place is Key West and the other keys all the way back to the mainland at Miami. It's a landscape where the Atlantic and the Gulf meet. It's houseboats, condominiums, and long treacherous roads.

Also like Pershing's mystery, Burdette expands the landscape with an extra key, presumably near Sunset Key. It's called Easter Island and was a source of distraction as I kept picturing the island off the coast of mainland Chile.

The second book in the series is Death in Four Courses (2012).

Four star

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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: 06/03/21

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan promises to be a book about books. It isn't. It's a misogynistic Google fetish wet dream.

Clay Jannon lost his web design job in one of the many recent recessions. Through dumb luck he found a graveyard shift job at a weird bookstore. He's given a couple rules: be on time, leave on time, don't explore the books that are for the special repeat customers.

At first he follows them and during this time the book is quirky and awkward but readable. In this time he tries to bring the bookstore into the modern century through some Google advertising, designing a website, and some other things. This section reads like any number of contemporary fiction. Given the setting it reminded me mostly of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (a vastly better book).

And then one day his very targeted ad brings in a Google employee, Kat. He falls head over heels for her and thus begins the Google wet dream, from which the novel never recovers. Kat is smarter and better educated that he is. She's a vastly superior programmer and specializes in data analysis / visualization. And yet, Clay always calls her a girl and treats her like a teenager he's hitting on.

With her help (aka her work), Clay solves the mystery of bookshop. It's something the club members have been working on for decades and he, with Google's help (a high speed OCR scanner) and a Googler's help, he solves the puzzle of the books which isn't actually in the books themselves but in how they are shelved. Snarky me says: if the bookstore had better lighting, any artist with a sense of visual space would have already solved it.

Solving the puzzle a third of the way through the book results in trouble for Mr. Penumbra. Of course he needs to be tracked down and rescued. But by this time I didn't care and I chose to not finish.

Here's why: Clay's version of how Google works bears more resemblance to Live Corp from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013) than actual Google. I should point out that the year this novel released, my spouse had just started working at Google. I've also worked in Clay's industry (although I no longer do) and I know how to harness people, computers, and data to solve problems (although the actual programming I'll defer to people who have CS degrees as my background is UI/UX).

As much as I would normally love a puzzle book that results in a roadtrip, I hated Clay. I hated how the tech industry was described as it had no bearing on reality. It wasn't even reality adjacent. It was in its own universe of wacky land. I hated the so called puzzles in this book and how they were solved. But ultimately it was Clay's constant objectification of Kat that made me stop.

One star

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How to Make a Bird: 06/02/21

How to Make a Bird

How to Make a Bird by Meg McKinlay and Matt Ottley (Illustrator) is an Australian picture book recently released here in the United States. The book follows a nameless child who is gathering together bits and bobs along an unnamed beach to construct a bird.

Taken at it's broadest interpretation, the recipe for making a bird is a representation of the creative project. It's the gathering of supplies to fit an idea. It's trial and error. It's seeing the creative process to its conclusion.

The description reads like the "Making of a Man" — an alchemic recipe immortalized in a variety of works of art from Full Metal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (2002) to Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith (2006). Below is the Steeleye Span song based on the novel.

The lesson though of "Making of a Man" is that the basic recipe isn't what makes a person. This basic recipe isn't what makes a bird and outright excludes a wide range of flightless birds. It also misses the sheer amount of work the creative process takes.

Three stars

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May 2021 Sources: 06/02/21

Previous month's book sources

May was the fourteenth full month of shelter in place for COVID-19 precautions. It looks like Ian's parents might be able to visit next month or maybe in August. Cautious fingers crossed.

May continued my revised way of scheduling reviews. It seems to working for me. I'm alternating through: new, 2020, older, and books from Paperback Swap. This new method is helping me keep pace with how I'm reading. The downside is I can only schedule about six weeks in advance now, rather than the six months or so I used to do.

I'm continuing to buy fewer physical copies. I'm also ordering fewer from Paperback Swap. There's the problem of postage and the fact that the books I like to get off the site aren't the popular ones, so finding ordered books new homes is often difficult.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In April I read 18 TBR books, down from Aprils's 19 TBR. I read one published in May. Seven books were for research and one was a review copy. None were from the library. One less TBR book resulted in a slight rise in the ROOB score from -4.12 to -4.00 That said, it was my best May ever in twelve years of tracking. I came very close to my predicted score of 3.90.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

May will continue to have a mixture of new and previously month's books. As I'm running even with reading for what I'm reviewing, I predict another low score, maybe around -4.30.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for May improved from -2.56 to -2.68.

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The Seeds: 06/01/21

The Seeds

The Seeds by Ann Nocenti and David Aja (Artist) was written to be a post-apocalyptic story but in the process COVID swept across the world and the imagery became eerily contemporary.

In a particular city, there's a wall. On one side, technology. On the other electronics are forbidden. On both sides the environment is failing. There are also aliens (as in little gray men) who are collecting seeds (and planting some too). They are here to make a profit on the death of the planet.

The novel follows two humans. One is a woman in love with an alien. The other is Astra, a reporter looking for the scoop of a lifetime. Her directive is to sell papers — even if it means making up the story of bending the truth until it breaks.

The artwork is understandably gritty. The setting is framed against what has been left behind — trappings of our modern day world. Even on the technology rich side, things aren't what they once were.

To thematically unite the three threads of the novel, the panels take a decoupage approach. Dialog overlaps scenes creating interesting and sometimes off-putting interactions. How dialog and location is treated reminds me of The 5th Element (1995).

The graphic novel is also situated on the road narrative spectrum. The travelers are a scarecrow and minotaur dichotomy (99). There are those who wish to save the world and those who wish to hasten its death. Their destination are the wildlands (99), a return to nature. Their route is the remains of the Blue Highway (33) as illustrated by the many old road signs that make up the foreground and background elements of various panels. Summarized Seeds is about scarecrows and minotaurs traveling to the wildlands for cross purposes via the Blue Highway (999933).

Four stars

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May 2021 Summary: 06/01/21

Reading report

May continued the COVID-19 shelter in place, bring us to our fifteenth month of shelter in place. Vaccinations continue in California and Ian and I have received both doses. I spent time in Los Angeles so that my oldest daughter could get her second shot. Our youngest has had her first shot.

I read more books in May, 27, up from 26 in the previous month. Of my May read books, sixteen were diverse vs not. On the reviews front, seventeen qualified. Of those read, five were queer. Of the reviewed books, four were.

I have two books remaining from 2020 to review, and 38 books of the 136 books read this year.

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